Sight Reading

Sight Reading is probably one of the most important and also most overlooked skills that jazz guitar players need to consider. Think about regular “reading” for a moment and try to imagine the enormous amount of reading we do on a daily basis. We read our emails, Facebook page, Twitter, News Feed and on and on. We read all day!

With all this reading we do on a daily basis, we are taking in vast amounts of information. Reading is like a magic portal to information which stimulates our brains and enhances our lives.

Now try to image if you replaced all of that “regular” reading  with music reading. Imagine instead that you are now reading tunes, solos, licks, chord changes, songs your friends send you, music you need to learn for a gig and even music you are composing and on and on. What might that be like?

Now instead of taking in vast amounts of information on your Facebook friends’ activities or the latest in crazy political happening in the news, you are absorbing music and sounds from a piece of manuscript paper. Just like with text, reading music is like a magic portal into a vast universe of sound and musical adventures.

So what do you do? Just read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Read the Fakebook, read chord changes, solos, exercises, classical music, jazz music, pop music, Big Band music, anything and everything.

Of course there are all sorts of great books which focus on reading. I always liked “Rhythms Complete” by Charles Collins and “Advanced Rhythms” by Joe Allard. These two books are a great place to get a good start on reading jazz. If you search for sight reading books you will find many other great books as well. If you have friends who play music, borrow their books. This is especially a good idea if your friends play violin or flute. Both of those instruments have ranges which extend into the higher registers. Great practice to read all those ledger lines.

As guitar players we need to focus on reading three important types of music. There are three skills or three areas we must look at. The first is just plain old reading of single note music. This would be what a trumpet or sax player reads. (Melodies) The second type of music we need to read is chord changes. We need to be able to read the chord changes in time, know what types of extensions to add and improvise interesting jazz rhythms to these chord changes as well. The third type of reading jazz guitar players need to focus on is reading polyphonic music. (full chords) Think of Joe Pass chord solos, classical guitar music and so on. Piano players learn to read anywhere from two to eight notes at a time using both hands. We need to learn to read more than one note at a time as well.

As I mentioned already, read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Have sheet music around. Place a pile of books on your music stand or on your desk. Make your practice environment a minefield of music books, charts and manuscript paper. Jump in and read, read, read.

What do you think? Share your music reading experiences with us. What are some other great books for learning to sight read?

I am currently working on a Jazz Guitar Sight Reading Book. I’m putting together a collection of around 40 reading exercises. Each piece will focus on a particular reading element. The exercises will progress from easy to more difficult. I feel there are not enough books which reflect some of the more modern sounds in jazz so I’ve made that the focus of my new book. I’m very excited about this new book and hope to have it available soon.

Happy sight reading!

Author: Michael Berard

Michael Berard was a part-time music professor for over 25 years at Concordia University in Montreal Canada. There he taught jazz guitar, jazz arranging, jazz composition as well as other jazz related courses. He has worked over the years as a jazz musician playing jazz clubs, concerts and studio sessions. Michael has played on numerous recordings including 3 of his own: "It's Autumn," "Little Voices" and "Good News." Michael is also the author of "Jazz Guitar Elements," a comprehensive jazz guitar method and "Jazz Reading Elements," a new jazz sight reading book geared towards jazz guitarists.